NextPlane has expanded its UC Exchange federation service beyond instant messaging and presence to voice and video calls.
The expanded federation service will launch this month. The move puts NextPlane in direct competition with service providers like Blue Jeans Network, which give users the ability to connect via voice or video with their current unified communications (UC) client, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said.
"They're offering the same functionality that Blue Jeans is successful in offering, but with more capabilities, like always-on presence," Lazar said.
Nick Sears, senior vice president of business development and sales at NextPlane, said what sets this service apart is the focus on real-time communication. He said other video services are centered around scheduled conferences, rather than real-time collaboration.
"You can't see someone's presence and go right into a call," he said.
Sears gave the example of a Microsoft Lync, now Skype for Business, user who is messaging with a Cisco Jabber user and wants to escalate to a video call. The Lync user can initiate a Lync video call and the Jabber user will receive an instant message with a WebRTC link that takes the user to a NextPlane portal to connect the call.
Sears said customers had been asking for voice and video calling capabilities for a long time, but the problem was in dealing with the different protocols UC vendors use to support voice and video, from SIP to Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).
Making matters worse, UC vendors implement those protocols differently to support their platforms' capabilities.
To tame this protocol chaos, NextPlane turned to WebRTC to create a portal that connects voice and video calls without needing to open a separate client or download a plug in.
NextPlane customers whose UC platforms do not offer voice or video capabilities can initiate a call over instant message, which takes them to the WebRTC portal, Sears said.
Lazar said this addition to the federation service has value to users who can easily escalate from an instant message to an audio call without having to dial a phone number. However, Lazar said he hasn't seen overwhelming demand outside of niche markets like the financial and automotive industry.
"It's not something that folks have generally deployed en masse," he said. "NextPlane has been trying to crack that nut for a while."
NextPlane faces the additional challenge that services like Blue Jeans can connect to video rooms, while NextPlane seems focused on the desktop, Lazar said.
But NextPlane has the potential to turn their expanded federation service into a fully functional UC platform that could compete with Microsoft and Cisco, he said.
"Right now they're trying to be a backend service, but they certainly could go down that road," Lazar said.
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